It was exactly one year ago that I experienced my first Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. My breath was, quite literally, taken away by what I witnessed on that day, and 1 year later the overwhelming power and emotion was just as strong. There are 2 days a year where Israel comes to a complete standstill; Yom Ha’zikaron, the day we remember all of Israel’s fallen soldiers, and Yom Ha’shoa, the day we commemorate and honor those who perished in the Holocaust. A siren, that can be heard throughout the whole country, sounds for two minutes, and in this time it seems as if the world stops.
I didn’t go in to work until 3pm today, so normally, on days like this, I would sleep in until 10 or so. However, not wanting to miss the siren (which sounds at 10am), I set my alarm so that I could get myself out on my balcony in time to hear it sound. I live on the 28th floor of a high rise building so I have a view of the whole city, and it turned out to be the perfect place to witness the profound event that took place. At 9:55, when I went outside, the world was normal. Cars were rolling along the busy streets of the city, construction workers were tirelessly hammering away at their projects, people were running with their dogs in the park behind my house, and a misty gloom hung over the city, most assuredly enhancing the gloom that accompanies this holiday. 9:56 came and went…9:57…9:58…9:59… the world continued like normal… and then… 10:00am hit.
There is no way to describe the sound of the siren. It is a piercing wail that permeates the whole country. Every person in Israel can hear a deafening cry that sounds as if it is coming from right above your head, and despite the loudness of the siren, there is a silence that can deafen you. The moment the siren sounds everything stops: cars and busses stop en route, people stop mid movement, sitters stand, travelers exit cars and busses, construction stops, animals stop, breaths stop… There is nothing. Israel becomes a country of statues. For two minutes you can do nothing to escape the thoughts of the millions of people who perished in one of the greatest atrocities of human history.
I could hardly breathe I was so overwhelmed. Tears began to flow as emotions of both sadness and joy overcame me. Sadness at the thought that my people were exterminated like animals simply for belonging to a religion that has shaped and defined my life, and happiness as the fact that I was alive, thriving, and living in the Jewish homeland. A land that shows the strength and endurance of the Jewish people despite all of the difficulties that we as a people have had to endure since the beginning of time (or so it seems). I was listening to this siren, staring out over the whole of Tel Aviv, and I just couldn’t breathe as all of these thoughts filled me. Bella (my roommates dog) wasn’t so thrilled with the sirens so mid way I had to shut the door due to her barking, but it didn’t disrupt the ambiance too much.
When I went back inside I felt emotionally drained. These two minutes can take quite a toll. I went into my room, reflected a bit, and then turned on the tv to try and stabilize my mood. That didn’t exactly go as planned. On Yom Ha’shoa most channels are shut down for the day, and the only programs that are shown are documentaries and films about the Holocaust. They aren’t kidding when they want to sent a mood in this country. I happened, however, to turn on a wonderful documentary about a man from Britain who saved 700+ children from the holocaust by getting them to England, and felt such a sense of happiness at seeing his wonderful story. There are amazing people in this world who want to help others in need simply because it is good and right; not for the glory, not for the fame, but for the happiness of knowing they made a difference in at least 1 person’s life.
About 20 minutes after the documentary ended Stephane came home from class, we made some food, and then we decided to watch a wonderfully touching French movie about the holocaust before I had to leave for work. It was amazing because I could understand the movie simply by reading the Hebrew subtitles (we don’t have English subtitles here), and I know Stephane was happy that we could finally watch a movie in his language. It was at this moment that I felt an overwhelming sensation of happiness. I was residing in my beautiful homeland, who’s official establishment came about, in large part, due to the events that we were remembering today, and I was doing so with the love of my life; a man who could truly empathize and share in this amazing experience with me because we both share a profoundly deep love and connection for our religion and the country that we are so lucky to live in.
Many people have asked me in the past if I would ever date someone who wasn’t Jewish, and many people were, and are, surprised when I say that I could never share myself with someone who was so fundamentally different from me. Judaism is perhaps the most important element of my “being”, and to be with someone who shares that same element, who knows the same customs and traditions that shaped my upbringing and life, that is a connection that is priceless and invaluable, and today really reaffirmed this for me. Today was just another day that further strengthened my love for my religion, my people, and my country, and I thank God everyday that I am here and able to enjoy this amazing thing called life from within Israel with a partner who is my match in every way, shape, and form. I honor the 6,000,000 Jews who perished at the hand’s of the Nazis, I will never forget them, and I will take their memory with me as I live each day in our country, practicing our traditions, and, in the future, passing those traditions along to my children and grandchildren.
YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN… I WILL NEVER FORGET…WE WILL NEVER FORGET, and through us may your memory live on